Former diplomat Rosemary Banks will be New Zealand’s next ambassador to the United States, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has announced.
Banks, the first female ambassador to Washington in New Zealand history, will replace former National minister Tim Groser, whose three-year stint in Washington has coincided with a turbulent time for diplomats seeking to get to grips with US President Donald Trump and his administration.
Banks was New Zealand’s permanent representative at the United Nations from 2005 to 2009, and also served as the country’s ambassador to France and Portugal in the past.
She is currently a Crown negotiator in the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, a member of the University of Canterbury council and a senior adjunct fellow in its political science department.
Announcing the appointment, Peters said Banks was “a highly experienced diplomat and public servant who will be a consummate professional in representing New Zealand’s interests in Washington”.
Peters also paid tribute to the departing Groser, saying he had been “a strong advocate for New Zealand and has been successful in cementing the relationship between our two countries”.
Groser, a former trade minister whose handling of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations came in for criticism from some, took up his posting in Washington at the start of 2016 – a year which ended in Trump’s surprise election as US President.
New Zealand, along with many other countries, has struggled at points to keep up with the unpredictable Trump and his policy decisions.
In early 2017, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully blasted MFAT for failing to get to grips with Trump’s “Muslim ban”, creating uncertainty about how Kiwis would be affected as other countries announced their exemptions.
New Zealand has also missed out from an exemption on US steel and aluminium tariffs, seen by some as a failure despite the Government and US Ambassador Scott Brown saying discussions are still ongoing.
There have also been rumblings about the environment within the Washington embassy and the conduct of some staff.
Groser’s former second in charge, Caroline Beresford, was reprimanded after telling US Democrats to “get your shit together or we will all die” on Twitter, and again when emails released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act revealed she had criticised her Wellington bosses to US lobbyists for “driving me crazy”.
Some media reported in August that Groser was being pulled home early by Peters as part of a diplomatic overhaul, although the Government confirmed (as reported by Newsroom earlier in the year) his term was due to expire at the end of 2018.
The Washington embassy has scored a recent win, however, with the resumption of bilateral trade talks and New Zealand receiving access to E-1 and E-2 business visas – a longstanding goal for New Zealand.